A local version of “Les Miserables”? Nothing new there. We’ve already seen a whole army of productions on the local level. After rights to “Les Miz” were opened up to community and regional theaters in 2013, every time you turned around another local theater company was storming a barricade.
But few “Les Miz” regional productions across the country — if any — have been on the scale of Fresno Grand Opera’s massive new production, which opens at the Saroyan Theatre on Jan. 17. With a budget of $750,000 for just four performances, the company hopes its efforts rival that of the recent national tour of the musical. The cast includes numerous performers from the national tour and Broadway, plus two who are going on to play in the ensemble of the Broadway revival opening in March. The sets were designed for a national tour, and the original projections are being designed by a national tour veteran. The same goes for other members of the creative team.
If all goes well, Fresno Grand Opera hopes to package this production of “Les Miz” as a sort of super-regional version that can be used by other companies that don’t want to do all the leg work.
And what does that work involve? Lots of fascinating goings-on behind the scenes.
To give you an insider glimpse, we’re kicking off today a 14-part series on the Beehive that will update you every day along the production’s journey to opening night.
Your guides will be two members of the ensemble: Valerie Salcedo and Patrick Brancato. In addition to their duties as cast members, they’ve also been working with Fresno Grand Opera the past couple of months promoting the show. They’ll be behind the scenes doing interviews, shooting photos and videos and passing on interesting tidbits.
To start the series on this first day, we’ll get to know Valerie and Patrick a little better. I sat down to ask them some questions about themselves and about the production.
Residence: Born and raised in Fresno; lives in Fresno and New York
Previous “Les Miserables” experience? “Yes. I performed it in high school at Sunnyside High School under the direction of Bob Bullwinkel.”
Roles in the ensemble: “You’ll see me in the program as Girl 3, Prostitute 5 and Young Woman 3.”
What’s your favorite thing you get to do in this production? “Being able to perform roles that are totally unlike my natural character.”
Residence: Born in Brooklyn; lives in Manhattan
Previous “Les Miserables” experience? No.
Role in the ensemble: Joly, a student revolutionary
What’s your favorite thing you get to do in this production? “Being able to work with the Broadway artists.”
Question: Tell us about your outreach program for the show. What is a typical visit to a service club, say, like?
Valerie: Patrick and I were chosen for the Fresno Grand Opera Young Artist program. This includes being a representative and ambassador for the company. Our director Joe Bascetta gave us a calendar with the dates of our performances and we go out to designated locations to promote what FGO is doing. We tried to target as many people as possible. We have visited numerous Rotary clubs, private functions, churches and schools around the Valley. During a typical visit, we take a small boom box and a cd of a Les “Miz” medley that our accompanist recorded for us. We never know how many people will be at each event until we get there. Sometimes it’s 15 people. Sometimes it’s 300 people. We talk about the show and then perform the medley, which is five “Les Miz” songs in 8 minutes. We always joke that we just need to go on tour with this 2-man medley because been a hit everywhere we go.
How long have rehearsals for “Les Miserables” been going on? Did the schedule ratchet up after Christmas? Are the principals still arriving?
Patrick: “Les Miz” rehearsals started in September focusing on the ensemble music. We would meet twice a week for about three hours. After our short break away from “Les Miz” in late November because of the Fresno Grand Opera’s Christmas concert we had a few rehearsals to brush up on the music and began outlining what our staging might look like with director Joe Bascetta before taking a break for Christmas.
After Christmas our schedule started up again, and Peter Lockyer, our director and our Valjean, arrived with his wife Melanie to continue staging the show further, taking the reins from Joe. Peter Van Dyke, our stage manager, also arrived. A typical rehearsal is six hours a day and we meet almost everyday. Most of our leads have arrived and we are waiting on only a few more. So far we have Javert, Enjolras, Fantine, Grantaire the Thenardiers, Cosette and all the student revolutionaries. We are still awaiting on Marius and Eponine both arriving sometime this week.
How is the rehearsal space set up?
Patrick: The rehearsal space is set up to look like the stage at Saroyan. They taped down rugs so Peter knows how big of an area he is working with. On the rugs is different colored tape used to replicate certain aspects of the stage. For example, there is a light blue tape, which lets everyone know where the scrim is. (For those of you who don’t know what a scrim is it is a transparent curtain, also known as a drop, that is used for special effects for the lights and to create atmosphere.)
We also use different color spike marks to tell the actors where to place a set piece used in the various scenes. In front of the stage is a line with numbers on it that helps the actors with placement in certain scenes. There are times when the director will say “look at the number” so you remember where you have to stand when getting into position.
In terms of set pieces there are still a few that haven’t come in yet. We have some tables, a bed and boxes used for seats. We are still waiting on the barricade, stairs etc. We also have most of the props. Most rehearsal time is spent on deciding where these set pieces will be best placed. The directors have pictures of what the projections are going to look like which helps when setting up the scene, placing the actors and helping to finalize homes for the set pieces.
Looking ahead, what is the timeline for the production? When does the production move into the Saroyan?
Valerie: Right now we are in the process of staging the scenes one by one. We have 6 hours of rehearsals a day. For example, in the afternoon if we are working on the “Master of the House” scene we will first run through it musically with the maestro to make sure we have everyone for all of the small solos and tighten up the music. We will spend about 45 minutes running through music for one scene and then take a 5 minute break to set up for staging that scene. The rest of the 3 hour rehearsal consists of staging the show. It’s basically figuring out where everyone will be placed on the stage and what props need to be taken onstage. So at the end, we really spend 3 hours rehearsing one scene and then we will take a 2 hour dinner break and come back in the evening to rehearse 3 hours of another scene.
Give us a feel for stage director Peter Lockyer’s rehearsal style.
Valerie: Once we arrived for staging rehearsal we were introduced to Peter Lockyer and went straight to work. Peter has a very calm aura to his directing. You will never hear him yell or get upset if we run into a problem with the staging. He’s a director that stages as he goes. He has ideas of what certain scenes should look like but most of the time he is experimenting with new staging. He mentioned that we are the largest cast he has ever worked with, which can be difficult because not everyone makes it in the scene. Melanie, his wife, is right along side him helping to stage the show as well. She’s often giving us pointers on how to play up our characters even more.
Any other behind the scenes rehearsal details you can give?
Valerie: Some of the students from LA are not used to “cold weather.” One of them even asked if it ever snows in Fresno because of how cold it is compared to Los Angeles.
I asked Jason Forbach, who is our Enjolras, what he did for New Year’s Eve here in Fresno. He said that he and the other leads just had dinner and hung out in the hotel room. We all couldn’t do too much or stay up too late because we had rehearsal New Years day!
There are soooo many people in the cast and on staff. I’ve never worked with so many people in a show before. We have a cast of 41 people. There are about another 40 people working backstage. For example, lighting designer, stage manager, costume crew, set crew, sound managers etc …
Any fun facts to share?
Valerie: There will be 22 carpenters working on the set at the Saroyan. THAT’S A LOT OF CARPENTERS!
Here are our guest bloggers’ bios:
Patrick Brancato was born in Brooklyn, New York. He attended and graduated from Manhattan School of Music with a bachelors degree in classical vocal performance. Patrick was a late bloomer when it came to singing. He discovered he could sing when he was 16 years old. Though he enjoys singing Patrick is also interested in film acting, commercials and modeling. His theater credits include: Into the Woods (Cinderella’s Prince), Little Night Music: Concert Version (Henrik), Grease (Johnny Casino), Babes in Arms (Peter) etc. Besides musicals Patrick has also been featured in a couple independent films. Those credits include: In His Shoes (Shawn), 1001 Faces (Jacob) and Summer Love (Michael). He was also featured in a commercial for an advertising company where he played the Host of a game show. When Patrick is not busy working on musicals or film he is hard at work taking acting and voice lessons to further develop his crafts. Patrick is currently working on two projects. The first project is “Les Miserable” (Joly/Pimp/Convict) with members of the Broadway and U.S touring cast with Fresno Grand Opera. The second project is a web series called “The Grey Matter Archives” (Crimson). Patrick is very excited to be working with such a high caliber show and knows he will learn a lot from it.
Valerie Salcedo was born and raised in Fresno, California. She is a graduate from California State University, Fresno with a bachelor’s in vocal performance. She holds the title of Miss Fresno County 2011. At the Miss California 2011 Pageant she became the recipient of a talent scholarship for her performance of Musetta’s Waltz from La Boheme and the recipient of the Miss America Community Service Scholarship for her non-profit organization, Music for Love. Her repertoire includes the roles of Fiordiligi (The Magic Flute), Casilda (Gondoliers), La Ciesca (Gianni Schicchi), Celie (Signor Deluso), Bianca (La Rondine), Mimi (Rent), Maria (West Side Story) and Violetta (La Traviata). Valerie recently returned from New York City where she performed the roles of Maria in West Side Story and Violetta in La Traviata at the Manhattan School of Music. She is currently one of two chosen young artists for the Fresno Grand Opera Young Artist Program and can be seen in the ensemble of their upcoming Broadway production of Les Miserables.